By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Thanks in large part to a snake-bitten, inexperienced University of Washington offensive line, Keith Price has taken more than a few hits this season.
Lately, many of them have been self-inflicted.
UW’s junior quarterback was once again taking most of the blame for the Huskies’ offensive struggles on Monday afternoon. For Price, beating himself up after losses has become as familiar as the toothy smile that has been his trademark.
“I’ve been pressing too hard and trying to be something that I am not,” he said. “I can feel myself being too serious instead of my care-free attitude.”
During an enlightening, 11-minute session with the press on Monday, Price vowed to get back to having fun on game days and admitted that he’s been putting too much pressure on himself to carry the offense this season. The results have included a completion percentage just under 60 percent and five touchdowns — marked drops after completing 68.3 percent of his passes and throwing 17 touchdowns through five games last season.
It’s no secret that injuries at several key positions have left Price without much help. Four different offensive linemen who figured into the starting lineup have been lost since the spring, while starting tailback Jesse Callier (season-ending knee injury) and No. 2 wide receiver James Johnson (wrist surgery) are out as well.
Price said the injuries have affected his psyche, saying he has been “trying to make up for all the things that I’ve lost. I’m just trying to press too hard instead of letting the system work for me and just letting guys make plays for me.”
Anyone who has watched UW’s offense in recent weeks can’t help but see the frustration, as well as the pass-protection struggles that have kept Price out of rhythm.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday that UW’s inexperienced offensive line is showing some progress in that area.
“I thought we got better last week. I really did,” Sarkisian said while singling out Stanwood High School product Dexter Charles and true freshman Shane Brostek as showing marked improvement in the Oregon game. “I was proud of our guys up front. We weren’t perfect and obviously Oregon’s an excellent front seven, but I thought we improved last week.”
When it comes to quarterback protection, Sarkisian did his part Monday to deflect Price’s self-criticism to the entire offense.
“I think he’s been too hard on himself,” Sarkisian said. “It’s not fair for him to do that to himself. You know, he lost some guys that I think he was probably counting on up front. He lost a veteran receiver that he was probably counting on (Johnson). He lost a couple veteran running backs that he was probably counting on.
“And, in turn, (he) probably put too much pressure on himself to try to make everybody else right around him.”
Since the end of last season, the Huskies lost starting guard Colin Porter to career-ending shoulder problems and guard Colin Tanigawa to what is believed to be another knee surgery, and they’ve played without two projected starters in guard/tackle Erik Kohler (dislocated kneecap) and right tackle Ben Riva (fracture forearm). Riva could be back soon, while Kohler’s status for the rest of the season remains unclear.
In their absence, the Huskies have relied on first-year starters such as Micah Hatchie (a pleasant surprise at the all-important left tackle position), Charles, Brostek and James Atoe to go with veteran center Drew Schaefer. The unit has been surprisingly solid as a run-blocking unit, as evidenced by tailback Bishop Sankey’s three consecutive 100-yard performances, but protection has been a major concern.
At one point during a win over Stanford 12 days ago, Price was seen barking at Atoe as the offense came off the field. After that game, he admitted frustration, which has been a common theme for the happy-go-lucky quarterback in recent weeks.
“I don’t think I’ve been enjoying the game the past couple of weeks,” he said Monday. “I haven’t been playing with the same passion as last year and the same people, the same confidence, the same swagger.
“It’s hard to truly have fun when you are frustrated, and I just need to go back to playing the way that I know how to play.”
Price told a story about sophomore linebacker Princeton Fuimaono coming up to him Sunday, a day after the 52-21 loss to Oregon, and saying: “‘Hey man, what is up with you? You don’t seem like yourself.’
“And I know if guys are noticing that,” Price said Monday, “then I am doing a bad job of (being a leader).”
Price said that, starting with Saturday’s game against USC, he’ll no longer be concerned with the protection problems or who’s out with injuries. His main objective is to go out, play care-free football and start having fun again.
That all starts up front, where the UW line might not be the 2005 Seattle Seahawks but at least there has been progress.
“They understand the task at hand, and they understand that protecting me is a key to our success,” Price said Monday. “And I think they’re taking more pride in that.”